Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Back To 4th Grade

My first two visits to the Seminole County Student Museum were field trips when my two sons were each in the 4th grade. This beautiful brick building sits in the heart of Sanford, FL and was originally built as Sanford High School in 1902. The extravagant price tag then was between $5000 and $7000.

The entire structure is solid brick, and all the plumbing and lighting was added in later years. Two additional wings added in 1916 face as East and West porticos. The building continued to be used after a new high school was built. From 1911-1984 the school was known and used as the Sanford Grammer School. Since then, the site has been used by the Seminole County Public School System for all 4th graders during their state history curriculum.

The entire site is run by volunteers who maintain and tend to the colonial garden, while providing tours to eager 9 and 10 year olds. The 5 rooms used in the tour include the Geography Room, Grandma's Attic, Pioneer Room, Native American, and Turn of the Century Classroom.

It is an overwhelmingly beautiful building. The items and stories that are shared within those brick walls are a step through a time portal. Back to when Florida was familiar, with the gators and the heat. But different with a glimpse into the simple and seemingly safer days of old.

The kids find it surprisingly did I.

6th in the State?!

I have attended school meetings that range from IEP, to PTA, to 'meeting between frustrated teacher and exasperated parents'. This was my first SAC meeting. It was held at my son's high school, and in attendance were parents, teacher, faculty, and the elected county school board supervisor. To my surprise and delight, they had a buffet.

Supervisor Dr. Bill Vogel opened the meeting and explained that this meeting was scheduled for the entire cluster of schools which includes the 'feeder' elementary and middle schools. Dr. Vogel's presentation to over 100 in attendance began with the expected praises of the Seminole County school system.

- Lyman High School within the top 5% of High Schools nationwide for performance.
- Lyman has 10 sports teams in 8 sports score the highest GPA statewide.
- And drum roll please....Lyman has the 6th largest band in the state.

Following Dr. Vogel's presentation, Walt Griffen from the school board gave a presentation that outlined the coming change to state grading of our public schools. Great emphasis was placed on how the changes would, of course, affect the percentages and therefore the perceived effectiveness of the schools.

Throughout the meeting questions were encouraged and taken with great attention. All questions, whether from parents or teachers, were treated with respect and answered completely.

Dr. Vogel closed the meeting with the final presentation. As can be expected in this economic climate, it came down to dollars and sense. He expressed concerns about several stimulus packages that will expire in the coming school year. The school board is hopeful that the penny sales tax will be continued by the supportive voters of Seminole County.

As a voter in Seminole County, I am all in favor of pitching in a penny tax to continue the successful track our schools are on. What I cannot do, is again chaperone bus #4. It takes 8 buses to transport Lyman's band to Friday night games, and bus #4 is the one that transports the drum line. 6th largest band in the state? Outstanding. But that is too many drummers on one bus for this Seminole County mom.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

My Walk Down The Path of Technology

It has been quite a journey!

Truthfully, I would never have taken this course, had it not been required. I would have likely spent the rest of my life as a non-blogger. I don't envision that my blog will continue, but I am better for the mental stretching that it has required.

My computer now has 6 new free programs that I would never have found, if not for this class. Videos, pictures, and blogs are new creations in my life and on my laptop.

My husband teases me that I am more receptive to change. Maybe, or maybe he is simply enjoying the new video camera that he purchased 'for my birthday'. I had borrowed the neighbor's camera to create and edit my first video posted on youtube. I fell in love with the camera...kept it for over three weeks. I used it to record my son's concert and then uploaded it, and after some editing, posted it online and made it available to our family out-ot-town.

Simple enough, but a big change for me. Maybe my husband is right?

Monday, April 12, 2010

Take Your Place On The Committee

There is one committee that I will join based solely on need. My need, not their need.

Schools and school districts use a technology committee to achieve the following goals:

To integrate technology into all aspects of instruction in the curriculum
To develop staff competency in technology
To enhance student achievement
To promote effective and efficient use of technology by students and staff

Members of such a committee consist of faculty, parents, and even local community residents and business leaders. While anyone with a skill or interest in academic technology integration would be welcome, there are certain key people that must be included. A department leader from each curriculum branch, as well as the computer lab/media center employee.

Perhaps most important would be committee members just like me. The employee or faculty member who needs to work hard at staying current with the integration of technology. What better way to learn how, than by becoming an active participant in the process from start to finish.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Who Doesn't Like Free Things?

I like being free. Debt-free (LOVE that), fat-free (in my dreams), and free to create websites!

The free website, for creating your own web page is And I am know the proud creator of my own website, named of course, with numbers in mind "The Firios Factorial". Yes, I know how much of a geek that makes me. has templates and categories that make designing and building your web page simple enough for even me. I have added videos, pictures and a webquest for those who cannot sleep until they learn more about the Pythagorean Theorem.

My only difficulty in building "The Firios Factorial" has been the usual technological stumbling blocks that I am forever climbing over. Editing and saving new categories takes me longer than it should, and I often save a page, only to find out the the website didn't get the memo. Even with the extra steps it takes me, it has been enjoyable and worthwhile...and FREE!

Monday, March 29, 2010

More Math Please!

Having two math courses this semester would be easier if the test for one, would alternate weeks with the other. I am never that lucky. Hours and hours have passed this weekend, with my pencil and calculator hard at work. The fact that this was my 'birthday weekend' made it less than tolerable. The ends will justify the means if both tests reflect my efforts.

As we drove last night to a version of 'My Big Fat Greek Familiy Birthday Dinner', I was still contemplating the last math problem that I had worked. The mush that was in place of my tired brain struggled to remember the answer. So, I picked up a scrap of paper and worked it out we drove...arcsin-1)pi/12. It was at this point that my husband quietly observed, "that's a bit weird, Diane".

I love mastering the numbers, and I fully understand that many others do not. Case in point, my younger son. He struggles in 8th grade math, in spite of his mother's love for the subject. Personally, all he needs is extra practice. As any concerned mom would do, I introduced him to my favorite math site. It is free and accessable to him even on the school computers.

The site allows the student to choose the math class, the section to be covered, and each segment can be replayed over and over. After several sessions practicing the basics of factoring, my son was able to earn an A on his 3rd quarter math test! That's all it took.

He may not be interested enough to search for scrap paper in the car, but there is hope for his math skills thanks to a great online site.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Pastitsio and Public Education

I married into my 'Big Fat Greek Family' almost 21 years ago. Until 4 years ago, I had never bothered to try my hand at any Greek recipes. Then I found the ultimate pasta dish, that was my destiny - pastitsio. It is a Greek version on lasagna, with sweeter spices such as cloves and cinnamon. After several practice attempts, with all the expected fine tuning, I took a deep dish pastitsio to the family dinner. Face with all the Greek in laws, I earned their deepest respect and was crowned the best pastitsio maker in the family. (An honor I do admit to deserving...the last sister-in-law to make it, must have used glue.)

At these monthly family dinners, we share all the events of our individual families. The latest discussion over my perfect pasta was Christine's upcoming Easter vacation to Greece. Most of the family has been there, and we are told that my husband and his siblings actually own property there. Haven't yet seen pictures, or money from said property, but it is supposedly there somewhere. And while my husband had been to Greece several times while growing up, he has yet to take his lovely wife and teenage boys.

The closest I can get is with family pictures, and my assignment to look into a foreign country's education system. Naturally, I spent time learning about the options for students in Greece.

As in all European countries, the Greek educational system is governed by laws and administrative Acts. While preschool can start as early as 2 1/2 with either public or private institutions, it is not mandatory. For children ages 6-15, education is mandatory in Greece. The system consists of three increasing levels: Primary (Dimotiko), Secondary (Gymnasio) and Tertiary education level.

Primary or Dimotiko education if for children 6 to 12 years old, after which they enter the secondary level. This next portion of education is further divided into two sections. The first of which lasts until the age of 15, when a student may decide to leave school. If they choose to continue, they will finish the Gymansio portion of their education and can proceed with the Tertiary level. This is completed by way of a State run university or a technological institute.
Technological Educational Institutions (TEI) form part of higher education just like the universities but belong to the non-university sector. Military Academies enjoy the same status as universities but they fall under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defence. There are no private universities. The diplomas awarded by certain private post-secondary education institutions are not recognized by the State.

As all of my Greek in laws have been educated here in the United States, they are not terribly interested in the details of the tri-level education of their ancestry. However, I will gladly share with them what I have learned about that, but will keep the secret to a perfect pastitsio to myself.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Let Me Explain

I missed the instructions for the last post the class had been assigned. While home fighting a sinus, and double ear infections, my classmates were asked to create a blog entry that included pictures. No problem. I can do that. I have plenty of pictures on my computer. Then I remembered that the computer housing all my pictures for the past 5 years, is the computer that completely died last November. No problem. I had some smarty-pants young man (no, not my son) transfer all the information to my brand new flash drive.

That is when I got nervous. I don't like the flash drive. Barely know how to use the flash drive. Which is to say, I have only ever saved two documents on it...ever.

The easy picture blog assignment now meant I would have to transfer all the old computer info, onto my new computer.

Truth was easy. For the first time, I worked my way through the technology I so desperately try to avoid, and found myself looking at some incredible memories of years ago.

My sister started her fight against breast cancer at the very end of 2005. By spring of 2006, she was in the middle of chemotherapy, and completely bald. I spent much of that year traveling to California to sit with her, talk with her, love on her. During one of those trips, my family celebrated our time together with an outdoor dinner, and ended the evening with the time-tested ritual performed around the world...pass the wig.

For those who have heard the stories about the special kinda crazy that surrounds my family, I present proof. With love, tears, and great memories, my sister and her family continue to persevere.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Never Too Late

Our first computer quickly became the object of fasination for our then two year old son. Sesame Street had produced a CD that allowed him to point and click his way around the town, following Elmo into Mr. Hooper's store where they would count pieces of fruit. Our son's second favorite CD was the same Elmo party, but with letters replacing numbers. This early exposure proved to be the foundation for the strong and insatiable reader he is today at 16 years old.

The digital learners of today grew up with the added benefit from such software programs. That is to say, most have. Classrooms still struggle with students who did not benefit from a home computer, or the influence of parents who model daily reading. Teachers of every discipline will come across these issues and must step in to motivate and encourage the students whose low reading skills undoubtedly impact all their other classwork.

Teachers can expand a student's abilities with content related vocabulary, and the use of classroom computers for building skills necessary for the class content. Websites such as 'Reading Rockets' and 'LD Online' offer games, skills assessments and handouts for families. Websites created by both the school and the teachers are currently used for additional credit and practice. These are often used in class, and can be expanded to include reading assessment and track accomplishments.

Whether the student has benefited from computers, or it is a new experience for them, the classroom offers access for the digital learners. Given the time for practice, it is the classroom computer that will make the difference for the student who has not yet become a full-flegded digital learner.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Turn off the phone, and solve for x

At first, I thought she was kidding. She appeared to be a reasonably smart young women, but her inability to grasp the obvious gave her away. The discussion was on the ethical implications of technology in a classroom. After having covered all the wonderful things that a smart phone can do, it was obvious how instant communication with the World Wide Web, or a text to Ricky's really smart girlfriend, would make the accurate testing of a student's math skills impossible. We were all in agreement, or so I thought. This young, attractive and seemingly capable student said, 'but I have an application on my IPhone to use it as a calculator, and I USE it as my calculator, and I can't afford a graphing calculator." Hmmmm. I didn't say what first came to mind...something about how much did her IPhone cost, or how much does she spend every month on those pretty acrylic nails. Nope, not me. For the first time in quite a while, I thought about what I was going to say before saying anything at all.

I am likely the oldest student in this class, and most assuredly, the only one with teenagers. As such, I was able to impart my aged and gentle wisdom on the subject...."YOU CAN'T HAVE AN IPhone ON DURING MATH TESTS!" Just kidding...simply what I wanted to say, but I refrained. My two boys have owned graphing calculators for years. It is required in math classes starting around the 6th grade. My boys tell me that there are several loaners available for the kids who either left theirs at home, or they simple couldn't afford the $100 price tag. After explaining the availability of calculators, my entire class was finally in agreement: there are times when all technology must be pushed aside for the purpose of real and specific learning. Four of the students in my row are planning on becoming math teachers. For us, the final class decision was obvious, and already set in our minds as truth.

My 8th grader chooses not to bring his cool phone to school. He knows that if he makes the life-altering mistake of having the phone on, and it were to ring, he would forfeit the phone to any school official within earshot. And the phone is only returned to the inconvenienced and irritated parent who must show up and claim it...not that I have had to do that for his older brother. At the Seminole County high school, my older son knows that his phone must always be in silent mode. The use of phones is allowed at break, and in the common areas of the school. Some of his instructors actually allow texting provided there is no test being administered. (They must have read my last post about 'digital kids'.)

I received an automated call from my son's school last week. It was a quick reminder about the Florida Writes exam and the state rules of how it will be administered. Any student who is found to have a cellular device within arms reach, will fail and must be rescheduled to take the test. They cannot have a cell phone with them at all. Not in the backpack, not in a pocket, even if the phone is turned off. Period. Plain and simple, no questions asked.

My experience as a parent has shown me how effective communication is needed by teachers, parents and school administration, and how when this extra step is taken, controlling technology can be achieved. As a prospective math teacher, I am impressed with the effort that the Seminole County School District puts forth to ensure the student's technology, aka IPhone with calculator app, does not interfere with the basics of education.

Monday, January 25, 2010

If Your Kids Are Awake, They Are Likely Online

A recent study performed by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that kids between the ages of 8 to 18 spend more than 7 1/2 hours a day using electronics. This is 7 1/2 hours outside of class, and includes devices such as smart phones, computers and iPods. With this kind of extra time, there really is no excuse for how my son's bedroom floor looks.

A sample statistic known as 'The Firios Family', confirms the new findings. My teenage boys are correctly classified by Apple Computer as digital kids. This new age of students are described as hypercommunicators, multitaskers, and goal oriented. Goal oriented? Well, 2 out of 3 ain't bad.

As a future math teacher, my biggest challenge is how to best teach a classroom of digital kids. One obstacle is my own love of pencil and paper. Especially pencils with an extra large eraser cap. Part of my enjoyment in math is the struggle of working a problem, over and over, wearing down the eraser cap until I become Master of The Rational Fractions. I know for many this sounds incredibly tedious and painful, but painful for me is a crossword puzzle. To each his own.

The second item in the Educational Technology Standards established for teachers, is the need to design and develop learning experiences that will incorporate digital tools and resources. I am pretty sure that my eraser caps do not qualify as a digital tool. My younger son does a great deal of his math homework online, using a website that allows for skills practice and review. While I have yet to see him submit his work via his iTouch, it is sure to happen sooner than later.

Maybe there will be a day when students send their homework to my iTouch...but first I would have to buy an iTouch...then read the manual for the iTouch...I already miss my eraser caps.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Flexibility and Adaptability

I hate change...of almost any kind. I would be much more content and stable if my skin, the weather and the cost of cheese would simply freeze at their present levels of being.

School started for me today with a new class on using technology in the classroom. Technology is change. I hate change. Why can't the students simply use the small, and may I add affordable, handheld chalk boards that were good enough for Laura Ingalls? Suffice it to say that my lack of technological skills leaves me unable to move pictures out of my own camera. Getting a picture off the tiny and easy to lose piece of plastic, and into a computer file that I will fail to ever locate again, requires my 16 year old son.

After 20 years of marriage, I made the bold move of announcing to my husband that I don't like change. Somehow, he already knew that. As I packed up my texts, notebooks and stack of binder paper, my husband reminded me to use my new Christmas present. It is a beautiful notebook with dividers and paper that surely must be more expensive than the reams of college ruled paper I find on sale for .25 each. I tried to create for him a visual of the amount of paper I use during a semester in school. "Two math classes this semester alone" I warned him. He assured me that he could afford plenty of replacement paper. I envision the diminishing chance of getting the new running shoes I need, once the speciality paper orders start arriving by UPS.

Instead of reminding him for the second time about my aversion to change, I accepted the challenge of a new note taking system. The first thing we did in class was pull out a piece of paper ($) to make a table tent with our name on it. I think I broke into a sweat. Then we reviewed the syllabus which listed our first assignment - create a blog. Me. A blogger? How many hours would that take my son, um I mean me, to figure out? I held myself from laughing out loud while trying to remember how much red wine we had at home.

The purpose of the first blog is to address one of the life and career skills that are discussed in the textbook. As I continue my mid-life-return to college, I am forced every day, and in seemingly every way, to change and adapt. To bend and to grow.

This may take a whole lotta red wine.